Bookmark: "Clive Thompson in Praise of Online Obscurity"

Sebastian Greger


An ode to keeping things small and obscure: Clive Thompson argues why “socializing doesn’t scale”, as communities beyond a certain size are more anonymous and lead to less interaction.

the world’s bravest and most important ideas are often forged away from the spotlight — in small, obscure groups of people who are passionately interested in a subject and like arguing about it. They’re willing to experiment with risky or dumb concepts because they’re among intimates. (It was, after all, small groups of marginal weirdos that brought us the computer, democracy, and the novel.)

I very much enjoy the final paragraph, both for its subversive reversion of the “bigger is better” narrative that the commercialized commodification of social networks promotes, but also for revealing some of the value that is hiding in “non-use”, which is so commonly stigmatized as something pathological, rather than desirable:

Maybe we should be designing tools that reward obscurity — that encourage us to remain in the shadows. Or what if they warned us when our social circles became unsustainably large? Sure, we’d be connected with fewer people, but we’d be communicating with them, and not just talking at them.

If anything, this highlights how important it is to think outside the box. Just because the world tells us that everybody has to have a million followers on Twitter does not mean that’s what is worth to aspire to.

I'm Sebastian, Sociologist and Interaction Designer. This journal is mostly about bringing toge­ther social science and design for inclusive, privacy-focused, and sustainable "human-first" digital strategies. I also tend to a "digital garden" with carefully curated resources.

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